, Gloucester, MA

Latest Cape Ann News

November 17, 2011

Ocean Alliance advances study on pollution, whales

When whale biologist and Ocean Alliance founder Roger Payne began his career, the chief threat to whales was commercial whaling.

At that time, in the late 1960s, Payne estimates that 33,000 great whales were killed annually across the globe. That number has dropped significantly, due to the 1986 International Whaling Commission's moratorium on whaling. Although a number of countries continue to hunt whales, including Norway, Iceland and Japan — which many critics say cloaks its whaling practice under the auspice of scientific research — Payne believes that, at least for now, commercial whaling will not bring these cetaceans to the brink of extinction.

Instead, he worries about another threat: Pollution.

Payne bases this concern on Ocean Alliance's own research.

The conservation organization, launched in 1971 — and now, under Iain Kerr as its CEO, looking to move its headquarters to Gloucester on the grounds of a restored and renovated Tarr & Wonson Paint Factory — has been studying whales since its inception. Payne, himself, came into the spotlight when he co-discovered in 1967 that humpback whales "sing"¬ù to each other.

Arguably, the organization's most significant work is its massive, five-year study that measured the baseline levels of contaminants in whales around the world.

"People have known since the early '60s there was a real problem from pollutants," Payne says. "But no one had a global view of it. This was the first global view."

So, from 2000 to 2005, Ocean Alliance's 93-foot vessel, the Odyssey, snaked its way around 21 countries and 118 ports. During that time, Ocean Alliance's team gathered whale and marine life samples across the world, including more than 950 sperm whale biopsy samples.

"We looked at sperm whales because they are living at the same level of the food chain which humans are living at,"¬ù explains Payne. "So what is happening in the sperm whale is probably similar to what is happening with people."

Text Only | Photo Reprints
Latest Cape Ann News

Pictures of the Week
Your news, your way
Comments Tracker
AP Video Network
Raw: Israel Bombs Multiple Targets in Gaza Veteran Creates Job During High Unemployment Raw: Cargo Craft Undocks From Space Station Widow: Jury Sent Big Tobacco a $23B Message New Orleans Plans to Recycle Cigarette Butts UN Security Council Calls for MH 17 Crash Probe Obama Bestows Medal of Honor on NH Veteran Texas Sending National Guard Troops to Border Hopkins to Pay $190M After Pelvic Exams Taped Foxx Cites Washington 'Circus Mirror' NASA Ceremony Honors Moon Walker Neil Armstrong Obama Voices Concern About Casualties in Mideast Diplomacy Intensifies Amid Mounting Gaza Toll AP Exclusive: American Beaten in Israel Speaks Obama Protects Gay, Transgender Workers Raw: Gaza Rescuers Search Rubble for Survivors Raw: International Team Inspects MH17 Bodies Raw: 25 Family Members Killed in Gaza Airstrike US Teen Beaten in Mideast Talks About Ordeal 'Weird Al' Is Wowed by Album's Success